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Using wings to grant wishes for kids

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ST. IGNATIUS – It’s tough to hear about a child with a life-threatening medical condition, which is why Eric Kendall started a fundraiser called Wings for Wishes in 2011.

“Every penny we make goes to Make-a-Wish,” he said of the Montana chapter of the program.

Pilots of small radio controlled aircraft gather once a year for two days to raise money to help make a wish come true. The event was moved to the St. Ignatius airport last year. Each pilot pays a $25 landing fee. Money also comes in during the event from the silent auction, raffle drawing and barbecue. Last year, the money helped a girl travel to Hawaii to swim with the dolphins.

“Our goal is to raise $3,800 for one wish,” he said. “Even if we don’t reach our goal, we still help make a wish.” 

Many businesses donated items for the event.

“We knock on doors for donations,” he said. “Subway of Polson has always been one of our top sponsors, but we’ve had support from a lot of people.” 

Several pilots parked campers at the airport with plans to stay all weekend. 

“They can’t build fires, but they turn on the camp light and tell stories,” he said. “During the day, they take turns flying.”

And, the bigger airplanes have the right of way.

“I’m monitoring the radio,” he said. “When I hear of a full-scale airplane coming in, we clear the runway.”

Brian Lepinski traveled from Washington with 15 radio-controlled airplanes to attend the event. On the runway, he lined up one of his bigger planes, which was about the size of an eagle with open wings. And, he wasn’t worried when one of his planes crashed. 

“Anytime you put things on a radio frequency, something can go wrong,” he said. “If you are worried about crashing, you need a new hobby.”

Gabriel Ouellette volunteered as a security official during the event. He collected a $5 fine from folks flying over restricted areas. The money was added to the event proceeds. 

“We have to keep people in line,” he said with a smile. 

The smoke was the biggest issue during the event. 

“We’ve got it coming from all directions,” Kendall said of the haze over the airport. “The only precipitation in the air today is in Canada, so this is all smoke.”

Last year, the group braved a bit of rain.

“We come out here to raise money for the kids, and we hope to keep giving wishes in rain or smoke,” he said. 

To donate, call Kendall at 406-499-0116.

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